Make way for one more big venture fund coming out of Europe, this one with some colorful backers. Oliver and Marc Samwer — founders of the Rocket Internet startup incubator among other things — have teamed up with Fabian Siegel, one of the people behind online food delivery company Delivery Hero, to launch Global Founders Capital, a new €150 million ($194 million) fund aimed at any and all startups worldwide — but initially with a focus first on developing markets and e-commerce ventures, according to Siegel.
The first funding deal from GFC, Siegel says, will close in about five weeks.
The Samwer’s influence on startups and entrepreneurship in Europe has been pretty huge over the years. Critics have alternately accused them of being clone merchants — simply copying models created by others in other markets and not really offering much in the way of innovation — and of being, in effect, bullies that have had a negative impact on the businesses that they build up and run.
On the other side, you cannot deny that have built up a massive startup empire, with some 27,000 people working across its portfolio of mainly e-commerce businesses in 43 countries. Financiers have come flocking, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into their different operations, and buyers have come too — with some of the most notable exits being selling CityDeal to Groupon and Alando to eBay to help those U.S. companies in their international ambitions.
This new venture is something a little different, though, as it appears that it will behave more like a traditional VC rather than an incubator. Although it will start first with what the three founders know best — e-commerce — ultimately it will look at anything and everything, at all stages of investment from seed to growth capital, with typical investments, Siegel says, going anywhere from €100,000 to €10 million. It will behave more like the European Founders Fund also started by the Samwers.
In fact, the idea for the Samwers appears to be to use this fund to get involved in the kinds of businesses that they otherwise might not incubate at Rocket itself — or, if you are a cynic, to get ideas that it can then replicate at Rocket.
“There are businesses that Rocket cannot build or do not have time to build,” is how Siegel describes the motivation behind the fund. “This is about opportunities elsewhere that Rocket does not do but wants to participate in, to give back to entrepreneurs. Things we don’t understand as well as e-commerce will be investments later.”
As for those later investments, two areas he names that GFC is likely to consider are apps, big data solutions, and other areas of e-commerce that Rocket does not touch right now, such as travel. Travel alone, he points out, “could keep us busy for 1-2 years, with the number of promising startups out there that are currently bootstrapped in markets like Vietnam.”
Interestingly, Siegel is a sort-of rival to the Samwers in that one of Rocket Internet’s portfolio companies is Food Panda, which is not unlike Delivery Hero in its premise. In fact, Siegel points out that the two companies have more or less been engaged in friendly coopetition, with the only crossover market being Poland in Delivery Hero’s quest to blanket Europe with online take-out options, and Food Panda focusing on emerging markets.
Siegel says that the impetus for GFC came from Ollie Samwer, and that in fact the whole process of creating the fund was actually very quick. “Ollie reached out to me 6-7 weeks ago, and I’ve been working with them for only a couple of weeks,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. While this will not be an incubator as such it will follow on from the model set out by U.S. and other VCs of trying to offer mentorship in addition to money. “The idea is that maybe we can help other teams to scale as we have. That’s something that you will see in the investments from our fund. We do like to build things want to help others build them, too.”
Siegel points out that GFC will not be making any investments into Rocket Internet-backed companies — but it’s not clear whether they will support any potential rivals, either.
In addition to the three principals, there are a number of limited partners, Siegel says, whose names are not being disclosed, except to note that a “large proportion” comes from the Samwer family itself “plus other entrepreneurial families.”
Siegel is new to the Samwer fold but he’s also not a stranger to the brothers’ reputation. He remains neutral and wait-and-see for how it plays out in terms of partnering with them as VCs. “It’s hard for me to say because i’m just starting to work with them, but my experience is that great entrepreneurs are very passionate and have a clear perspective of how the world should be,” he says. “That’s how they get things done but as a result they polarize people. But even among those who ask questions or have bad opinions, none would say they don’t respect what they’re doing.”